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Value of Australian culture being lost with statistical measurement

Value of Australian culture being lost with statistical measurement
August 22, 2018

The true value of Australian arts and culture is being lost in a current obsession with statistical measurement, metadata and government clichés, say three respected Flinders University scholars in a wide-ranging new book, What Matters?

For authors Julian Meyrick, Robert Phiddian and Tully Barnett, cultural leaders and policy makers too often chase the perfect metric for activities whose real worth lies in our own personal experience. When, they ask, did culture become a number and experience become data?

The authors, now four years working collectively as Laboratory Adelaide, have researched the main challenge facing Australian culture today, aiming to demonstrate its value to governments, business and the public.

What Matters? charts a new way through an important debate stranded between what the trio sees as the ‘hard heads’ (for whom the arts are just another industry) and the ‘soft hearts’ (for whom they are too precious for dispassionate analysis).

As other sectors from sports to banks, churches to media platforms, reappraise their core purpose, this book argues our cultural values have likewise been distorted by political forces, the empty language of ‘function’ and methodological confusions.

For artists, managers, policy makers and board members, here are practical solutions to the current metric madness.

The authors explain “the aim of the book is to rescue discussion about the value of culture from three flawed approaches - the bland but deadly platitudes of policy-speak; the obscure locutions of cultural theory; and the elitist ‘club’ talk that gathers around particularly high art forms.

“As citizens of a multicultural, pluralistic democracy, we must be able to talk about the value and purpose of cultural activities in a way that makes sense both to artists and the public.”

Theatre director and Strategic Professor of Creative Arts, Julian Meyrick; Professor of English, political satire scholar and co-founder of the Adelaide Festival of Ideas, Robert Phiddian; and English lecturer and digital humanities expert, Dr Tully Barnett, reject what they see as the bogus idea that it is possible to measure the value of arts and culture without knowing anything about them.

They conclude “there is no algorithm that will objectively rank an art gallery against a publishing house or a computer game company. We have to acknowledge that culture only has value through direct, meaningful human experience. This is why What Matters? is full of actual examples.”

What Matters? - Talking Value in Australian Culture (Monash University Publishing, ISBN: 9781925523805, August, $24.95) paperback or pdf.

Image: Black Diggers.

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